The Order of Strings on a 12-String Guitar Explained

Wanna know in what order the strings are on a 12-String guitar? In this post, I’ll go over what order they are in, how you can re-arrange it, and a little bit of history as to why the strings are this way.

The Order of Strings and Their Names

The following are the names and the order of the strings when the guitar is in standard tuning. The letter corresponds with the note and the number is the octave.

On a 12-String guitar, the strings have the following order starting from the bottom string, E3, E2, A3, A2, D4, D3, G4, G3, B3, B3, E4, E4. The first 4 sets of strings are strung in octaves and the highest 2 in unison.

Its string order is the same as on a 6-string guitar, except for the double and higher octave strings.

This combination of strings makes it possible to play the 12-string guitar if you know how to play 6-string guitars.

Some guitarists call them E,e,A,a,D,d,G,g,bb,ee. That’s also okay, but it’s a less scientific way of describing the strings.

Why the Order of Strings?

There are two factors responsible for the string order on a 12-string guitar.

The first one is standard tuning. This tuning was put in place because it’s easy for the fingers to create chords and melodies with minimal movement on the fretboard.

Standard tuning is on almost every guitar around the world and the guitars and the strings come out of the factory optimized for it.

The second factor is the 12-Strings.

The 12-Strings

Credit: Gregg Miner CC BY-SA 3.0

The 12 string guitar is over 100 years old, and the invention’s origins are debatable. Some say it’s coming from Mexico some say it’s an American Invention, and some argue it’s European. But there’s a close similarity to a harp guitar which may have been the inspiration for the 12-stringed guitar.

It said that the 10-string guitar came before it. And when you compare a 12-string with a 6-string guitar. It only makes sense with double strings. Because one finger could have a hard time holding down 3-strings. If you would try to fit more strings on the body of a 6-string guitar, it gets very finicky.

So in conclusion, much of its design and string order is due to ergonomics and comfort when playing it.

The String Order When Tuning

This is the professional order of tuning for a 12-string guitar.

You begin by tuning the lower octave strings first, and then the rest of the strings. The tuning order of the strings is E2, A2, D3, and G3 and then proceeding by going back starting from E3, A3, D4, G4, B3, B3, E4, E4.

You start from the bottom up like on a 6-string guitar, and then you go back and up again.

You could just tune it in from the bottom up if you want to. But when you’ve got your tuning done in the bottom, and you’re working your way up. If you tune it like a 6-string guitar you could end up detuning already tuned strings in the process.

The lower octave strings will create tension when tuned, which bends the neck a bit, causing all strings to detune. That’s why you want to start with them, before jumping on to the lighter strings, as those don’t cause as much detune.

However, personally. I tune it like a 6-string guitar all the time, which is from the bottom up.

Alternative Tuning Styles 12-String Guitar

When you do an alternate tuning on your guitar. You change the string order, and it can sound exceptionally cool. Here are two alternate tunings that are awesome. Every alternate tuning that works on a 6-String guitar also works on a 12-String.

Open C Tuning

Tuning to Open C on a 12-string is really easy and you can get a rich sound and a whole new fretboard to explore.

The usual E3, E2, A3, A2, D4, D3, G4, G3, B3, B3, E4, E4. will become

C3, C2, G3, G2, C4, C3, G4, G3, C3, C3, E4, E4.

The easiest way to achieve this tuning is to get a guitar tuner that supports alternate tunings or one that is chromatic.

Open D Tuning

Another good and popular tuning for a 12-string guitar is the Open C tuning. Just like with the D one, this one’s really easy to do!

Reminder, get a chromatic tuner or ones that support alternate tuning styles!

The usual E3, E2, A3, A2, D4, D3, G4, G3, B3, B3, E4, E4. will become

D3, D2, A3, A2, D4, D3, F#4, F#43, A3, A3, D4, D4.

Can You Remove 6 Strings from a 12-String guitar and play it like a 6-String?

If you really wanna change the order of strings on a 12-string guitar. You can always remove 6 of the strings and get a 6-string guitar instead.

It works wonderfully, and the only drawback is that the strings are ever so slightly left or right on the fretboard, depending on what strings you remove.

You can remove 6 of the strings and use your 12-string guitar in what’s called Nashville tuning. That is when you remove all the lower octave strings and keep the high ones.

There are many people who customize their string order. For example, some even remove one of the top E strings so that it’s not doubled.

It’s all about preference and what sound you prefer!